Must Do’s to be a better barbecue cook

If you are on this site, then without much stretching we assume you have been seeking the “perfect way”, or at least looking to improve your methods of outdoor cooking.  This quest will lead to preparing consistently tastier food for your family and guests.

If this is your future in life, then there are certain things which you need to either do and have (or both!) to accomplish what may be your central goal in life. The changes you need to make are really simple and don’t cost you an arm and a leg. In fact, you have probably thought about them once or twice without ever taking the necessary steps to reach your goals.

Well, now is the time to take the necessary steps to move you to the “next level” of mastering barbecuing and grilling.

We have listed these steps and explained their necessity below.  Take time now to review each of these items and weigh what we present.  These are not necessarily tips or techniques but BASIC RULES OR SKILLS for developing better and more consistent barbecue. These are the rules we adhere to, as do many of the championship barbecue contestants across the nation. They are tried and true.

Must Do Number 1 Know the internal temperature of the meat that you are cooking. Not all meat cooks at the same rate, and therefore constant monitoring of the cooking process is essential for perfectly cooked meat.

This monitoring is easily accomplished by obtaining an inexpensive meat thermometer.  They are usually $10 bucks or less. Nice ones that read digitally are about 3 times that price and there are some that are like indoor/outdoor thermometers which constantly monitor the meat’s internal temperature without ever lifting the lid. They also have new ones that read by remote sensors!

Must Do Number 2 Know at what temperature you are cooking.  Your barbecue pit is different than any other. You are using different charcoal (briquettes or lump) and the temperatures due to wind and weather affect the overall temperatures.  When factoring all of this into the heat equation, are you cooking at 200 degrees F. or are you cooking at 350 degrees F.?  If you don’t have a clue, then you are lost and have no idea when the meat will be done.

The temperature of the barbecue pit affects the rate at which you are cooking. If you are cooking a brisket or perhaps ribs at 300 or 350 degrees F. then you are going to have some overdone meat that is tough. This is a “no-brainer”. Some pits have several thermometers to register the proper temperatures.

In controlling the heat, always keep the upper air exhaust vent fully open. The lower air intake vent should be adjustable to regulate air flow to the fire and thus regulate the temperature of cooking.

Must Do Number 3 Always use the cleanest fuel available.  Use charcoal briquettes only when it has burned down to gray ash.  Use lump charcoal any time as it contains no impurities.  Use wood only when it has been reduced to red hot coals – not as a log placed in the pit. It contains impurities which will taint the meat and make it bitter tasting.  Many folks say they like this bitter taste, but for professional results, avoid the raw wood in the pit.

Do not use lighter fluid if at all possible. There are petroleum distillates in the fuel that will taint the taste of the meat. If you must pour on the liquid, always allow the briquettes to burn at least 40 minutes to try to remove any traces of the fumes.

Must Do Number 4 Don’t over cook the food in the pretence of making it “falling off the bone” tender. This is a mistake made by most beginners/uninformed cooks.  Any time you overcook the meat, it will dry the bone and release the meat from the bone. This has nothing to do with being tender. Just over cooked.

To test this theory (and to waste some perfectly good meat), simply cook the ribs, chicken or any other type of meat to the point where you know it will be completely overdone. You will notice the meat “falls off the bone” every time.  It is not necessarily tender as it probably has dried out, but it will certainly come off the bone easily. If you judge tenderness in this method, you should rethink your definition.  Elsewhere on the site is information which defines when meat is properly done.

Must Do Number 5 Keep it Sanitary.  When handling and preparing fresh meat, always wash hands and the preparation surface areas regularly.  This is particularly true with fish, pork and chicken.  Bacteria and germs can prevail in many places and unsanitary habits can make you sick. If you wash your hands and dry them on cloth towels and you do this regularly, you may not be accomplishing the cleanliness that is necessary because the towel can become dirty.  We recommend using paper towels and that way each time, you are using clean material to dry the hands. No need in becoming sick enjoying what we like doing best!

Must Do Number 6 Grilling grates must be hot!. If you are “grilling” (fast cooking directly over the heat), as opposed to barbecuing (low temperature and not directly over the heat), always make sure the grates are very hot. This means making sure you have the fire at maximum temperatures and the cooking grates over this heat for at least 10 minutes.

By pre-heating the cooking grates, they will sear the meat to make it look pretty, but more importantly, it will keep the meat from sticking to the cooking grate when turning it over. If they are still sticking, the meat is not ready to be turned.  When the meat releases from the cooking grates (or if there is the only the slightest pull) then the meat is ready to be turned. BUT, for this to work properly, the grates must be HOT!

Must Do Number 7 Enjoy the process.  Don’t be in a hurry.  Relax, plan ahead, take your time, have the necessary ingredients available before beginning.  That may look like going to the store the day before cooking and buying everything.  It may also look like seasoning the meat the night before and placing it covered in the refrigerator for marinating or just applying a dry rub.

Having enough charcoal/gas to complete the task is also important.  This keeps the franticness from overwhelming the process.

Most importantly, have plenty of your favorite beverage and good friends over to enjoy not only the process – which is the most important part – but also the results.

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